Howard returns to top of his game Runback feats make up for career disappointments; SUPER BOWL XXXI

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW ORLEANS -- Green Bay Packers return specialist Desmond Howard received his Most Valuable Player Award, the trip to Disney and then took a phone call from the president.

Never in the 31 year history of the Super Bowl has so much fuss been mave over a return guy.

But then, never has a return guy been selected Super Bowl MVP.

Howard, the former bust with the Washington Redskins, set an NFL post season record with a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown and set a Super Bowl record with 90 yards in punt returns (six) to lead the Packers to a 35-21 win against the New England Patriots last night in Super Bowl XXXI the Super Dome.

The game was redemption of sorts for Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 4 pick overall by Washington in 1992. Howard was cut two years ago by the Redskins and played last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"There's an old saying that cream always rises to the top," said Howard. "I was just another strong link in this very, very strong chain. You can only keep talent down so long, and when you get the opportunity to do other things I've done this year, I never would have imagined I would have won MVP Of the Super Bowl."

"I never dreamed of winning the MVP as a child, I just wanted to be a player in the league," he said.

It has been a great season for Howard, who was signed by the Packers just days before the start of training camp in July.

Howard set an new NFL single and regular season record with 875 punt return yards, and had five punt returns for touchdown before yesterday, two of those in post season.

While a lot of historians were reflecting on former coaching great Vince Lombardi with the Packers winning the title yesterday, some of its old fans were comparing Howard with former Green Bay return specialist Travis Williams.

"Everytime he touched the ball, we thought he could break one," said Reggie White, the Packers defensive linemen. "He has done that for us all year. The man has made a remarkable comeback in his career."

In a game that featured big plays, Howard made the biggest of them all. He delivered the KO blow with a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 3: 10 left in the third quarter that put Green Bay ahead, 35-21.

The run came on the ensuing kickoff after the Patriots Curtis Martin had run for an 18 yard touchdown that pulled the Patriots within, 27-21.

It was a vintage Howard run. He burst through the wedge, had only one Patriots player get a hand on his legs and then it was goodbye New England and farewell to Patriots momentum.

"I thought we might just have had them rocking a little bit," said New England coach Bill Parcells. "It was 27-21, what had a lot of momentum on that dirve and our defense was playing beter. But he made the big play and I credit him fo it. He is a terrific player. He has been great allyear and he was great today."

"Like I said through the course of the two weeks before this game, they can roll the dice and kick it to me if they want, but I have full confidence in my return team that they were going to allow me to pop one sooner or later, becaude they did all year long," said Howard. "Obviously, that was a back breaker."

There was more. Howard returned a punt 32 yards to set up the Packers' first touchdown, a 54 yard pass from Brett Favre to Andre Rison early in the fourth period. Howard also returned a punt 34 yards to set up a Chris Jacke 31 yard field goal in the second quarter.

Actually, the Patriots came up with a decent strategy to contain Howard. They would punt to the sidelines and try to force Howard to the short side of the field.

But Howard's first move is elusive, the second is acceleration and the third is 'the bomb all the way to the house.'

"We know he is a great return guy. What are we supposed to do, not show up?" said Parcells.

Pub Date: 1/27/97

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